Extreme Couponing for Minimalists

PicsArt_1365125475297

Have you ever seen the show Extreme Couponing on TLC?  If you haven’t, women buy tons of items, in bulk, using hundreds of store and manufacturer’s coupons, store discount cards, and any savings program that is available to shoppers. It’s a lot of work, but sometimes they get nearly 99% off of the retail price.  I’d seen the show before, but this time it left a serious impression on me. Why wasn’t I doing this? I guess part of my excuse for not couponing is that stores in Florida don’t double coupons so I can’t get the types of savings they get.  After spending part of my spring break watching the show, I couldn’t help but feel like I was leaving money on the table.   I swear I heard a woman say she saves 60 thousand dollars a year by couponing– and many of the women said they earn a salary’s worth by couponing for their families. Why am I paying for all of the stuff they get at a steep discount, free, or for a small profit?

I’m on a very tight budget because I won’t have substitute teaching work in the summer.  So, extreme couponing has become extraordinarily attractive to me. Every dollar that I can save today, is another dollar I’ll have at my disposal this summer. And besides, saving is addictive: I made my first real couponing trip to Winn-Dixie on Tuesday saved over 50% off the retail price of household items. (Maybe that’s not extreme, but it’s pretty darn good.)

Here is my concern with extreme couponing: buying in bulk and creating the “The Stockpile.”  Women on the show devote entire rooms, basements, and garages filled with all of the stuff they’ve bought.  They have a convenience store in their own homes. I don’t have any room for a stockpile. I live in a tiny apartment with enough stuff as it is.

I had to set up some extreme couponing rules so saving money can fit my aspiring minimalist, slow-paced, and healthier lifestyle:

  1. I’m not going to buy unhealthy food.  The women on the show have crates of junk food sitting under their noses to satisfy every craving.  I don’t want that temptation. I’m changing the way I eat: I’m aiming to consume less processed foods and more fruits & vegetables; and one day I’d like to be 100% organic. Yes, this may make extreme couponing more challenging, but any savings is good savings.
  2. I’m also not going to buy something I can’t use, even if I can get it for free. That’s just consumption for the sake of it. Unnecessary!
  3.  I won’t buy anything in extreme excess.  I’m not going to buy 50 containers of deodorant, 27 bottles of dish soap or 100 razors . I will never be able to use that much. Maybe one day when I have a family and the space to store items that we can use, I’ll buy more. For now, I’m not getting excess junk. With my last haul I ended up with 4 bottles of laundry detergent, 6 boxes of tissues, 2 bottles of olive oil and it still feels like too much. I’m going to stick to having two sets of coupons (from two newspapers), so I can maximize the Buy One Get One Free Deals (BOGO).
  4. I’ll try to buy items at a 50% discount, but it’s okay if I don’t.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get items for free, or at a profit. It would be wonderful, but I don’t want to spend 40 hours a week couponing like a crazy person. I want to live life.  I feel that the fifty percent rate is attainable, and reasonable.  BOGO deals are the easiest to find and combine coupons with, and still yield great deals.Newspaper
  5. I’ll take the coupons but give the newspapers away for free. A long time ago, I tried couponing, but I always felt I was being so wasteful with the newspapers. I don’t read anything but the comics, and recycle/throw away the rest.   From this moment on, I’ll take the inserts, and let the cashier give the newspaper away to people who just want to read it. Why not share the love?
  6. If I begin to have more stuff than space, I will start giving things away for free.  What’s the point of saving ridiculous amounts of money if I can’t benefit my community in some way. If I have more than enough, I should share it.

What I have realized is that couponing may not be that great for an organic, vegetarian, soy-free, wheat-free, dairy-free dieter, but it’s great for buying toiletries and household cleaning supplies. I can use the money I save on these items to buy my healthy food.

Resources

Confessions of an Ex-Extreme Couponer

Extreme Coupon Tips for Normal People

North Korea Exposes the Western Propaganda

This video is about an hour and a half. I watched it last weekend wanted to share it with you all because it made me think how we, as Americans, consume continuously. Watch it when you have time some time to sit down and really pay attention.

I know I haven’t blogged about time management and stress reduction in a while. I would still like to emphasize that we must become less enmeshed in our materialistic, consumer-oriented, business-centric culture if we want our stress levels to drop. If we are spending less, we can work less. If we desire less “things,” we can live a more fulfilled life. We can be attentive to the small moments that make life interesting and rewarding.

Now, about the video: If you are not open minded, don’t watch it. It will challenge many ideas and beliefs that you have held your entire life. I know that the United States and North Korea are currently having a disagreement (I’m putting it mildly), and the documentary delves into some older political issues. Nonetheless, the video makes some thought-provoking points on how Western propaganda drives consumerism. Enjoy!

Why I’m Giving Up Online Shopping for Lent

So lent started last week, and the only thing I gave up was giving unsolicited advice. An awesome pursuit, as I can become a better listener and mind my own business. Except, my boyfriend said, “why don’t you give up something hard?”  I hadn’t really thought about it much until I went to Amazon.com yesterday to look for a canvas tote bag.  And that’s when it hit me. I’m going to give up online shopping. I think I have a borderline addiction.  It started a few years ago when I didn’t have a car and I needed to furnish my apartment. Or if I needed to buy something really large and heavy and didn’t have anyone to help me pick it up and carry it to my apartment.

UPS is good at transporting and delivering items for me. Amazon Prime is amazing. I have free two day shipping, but it’s become more of  problem than something that helps me. Because as I look around my apartment, I see that almost everything I own was purchased online.  Nowadays, I buy things online for one of these two reasons: #1) I don’t feel like dealing with the world (which means Miami traffic/people/a gazillion stores); or #2) Amazon has a better selection and it’s cheaper.  But what I’ve come to realize, is that the quality of the items I purchase cant be inspected through a computer screen. Furthermore, I’m less likely to purchase something or spend money on something if I go to the store and look at it– more than often than not, I don’t like the item.

Benefits of Giving up online shopping for Lent:

  1. I’ll learn patience: waiting until items go on sale, waiting in line, waiting to find the perfect item.
  2. I’ll  spend less, because I know sure as heck I’m not going to feel like going out to the store. And I’ll  think twice about buying things IF the only way I can get them is by going out.
  3. I’ll be more aware of what I’m spending: for some reason when I buy online it hardly feels like I’m spending money. Money disappears faster than I realize.
  4. I won’t buy crap I’m not going to use.
  5. Any spring cleaning I do won’t be wasted- I won’t be filling my house with anymore crap from Amazon.

When consumer spending drives the economy…

This morning I read an article on the impact of raising the minimum wage to $9/hour. As someone who hasn’t quite broken into the world of salaried professionals, raising the minimum wage to $9/hour would be great news. I’m all for workers rights and corporations paying a living wage. (Not that $9/hour is a living wage, but keeping up with inflation would be nice). According to the article, raising the minimum wage would give hourly wage earners more spending power, which would, in turn, boost the economy.

That’s great, except, we wage workers shouldn’t spend the extra couple of dollars on economy-boosting goods and services.  We should be using the extra cash to take care of our family’s NEEDS, pay down debt, and save MOST of it for a rainy day.  The United States (and many other western countries as well) absolutely depend on the spending habits of its citizens. This is a huge problem, considering the amount of people who are drowning in debt. If your debt is higher than your income, believe it or not, you cannot afford luxury items. (Yes, a smartphone is a luxury item.)

In this country, we are constantly overspending. And this overspending on cool gadgets, dining out, jewelry, fashionable clothing, new cars, random crap, etc., is what provides jobs and financial security to our wage earners. How can we live a sustainable lifestyle if our economy depends on the overconsumption of goods and services? I mean, what would our economy be like if people only purchased what they absolutely needed? Would there be people working? Would there be jobs? I dont know. I’m not advocating socialism, but our current system is really messed up.

Remember, you don’t have to be at mercy of the constant ebb and flow of our economy. If you think carefully about how you spend your money, you will be in a better position than most people riding the consumer bandwagon.

Buy Nothing Challenge: Cheating

When I wrote the post about the Buy Nothing Until 2013 Challenge, I have to be honest. I really didn’t take it seriously. A couple of days later, I ordered a 50 dollar hair-styling product and a vegan meal planning book off the internet. I guess I wasn’t supposed to have either of those things because Amazon ended up sending me the wrong hair product and I had to send it back. And the book I ordered was damaged in transit, and I never received it (nor have I yet to receive a refund).  I did end up re-ordering the book, but I have decided that the book is the last thing I will buy until 2013.  Really, the challenge is about learning to do without.

Today I saw an infomercial about…. I never buy things from infomercials, but I always end up thinking, “Wow, that item would make my life so much easier.” However, I was doing just fine not even knowing about the item’s existence until I saw it on television. There are a lot of items that make our lives easier, but we were doing just fine without them.  Occassionaly something comes along that will make a monumental change in the lives of humans, but most items these days are overrated.

It got me to thinking, do I really need the meal planning book? Of course not. I have vegetarian and vegan recpie books; and if I would sit down for an hour each week, I could make my own meal plans.  Did I really need the hair product? I dont know yet. What I do know is I’d recently bought mango butter so I could make my own hair cream, and I hadn’t started using it yet. So at the time I ordered the 50 dollar product, I didn’t need it.

I’ve been going about the last week thinking of things to buy. I fault TV ads.  If you watch tv long enough, and sit through all the ads, you see all this stuff that you think you want to buy.  Commercials attempt sell you happiness, friends, “coolness,” personality, fun, excitement, frugality. You and I both know that there is no frugality in spending money at a store like Kohls because you are still spending.

If you try to focus on getting happiness (or whatever other positive emotion) without spending money, you may be surprised with what you come up with.  For example: I’ve been feeling rather crafty lately.  Last Thursday, I was feeling super down– I guess because I quit my job, and I felt like my life was nothing because I wasn’t working (even though I started a new job today). Instead of spending a gazillion dollars on crap I didn’t need, I crocheted a cute hat. (Oh- Here is a link to the tutorial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xE9X0LUbo8)

hat-blog

 

I felt happier, and proud of myself that I turned $2 yarn, that’d been collecting dust in my closet, in to something I love. The postitive feeling is enduring longer than if I had just went out and bought something similar. Everytime I put the hat on, I will remember the day I made it: I felt like crap that day, and instead of stuffing my face or spending money I didn’t have, I turned my negative energy into productive energy. Truth be told, I wasn’t even crocheting to make myself feel better, I was doing it to bide my time. And I got something amazing out of my efforts

So when you are thinking about purchasing something, think first. Can I make do without it? Am I buying it to quell negative emotions? If you answer yes to one or more of those questions, you may not need to buy anything at all.

Have a great week.

~namaste~

 

“Buy Nothing Until 2013” Challenge

Because I love my readers so much, you all get two posts today.  After perusing my RSS feeds, and catching up on other minimalist blogs, I stumbled upon the “Buy Nothing Until 2013” Challenge by Leo Babauta on his Zen Habits blog, which I love btw.  I wanted to share the link with you because I think I may be participating.

http://zenhabits.net/buy-nada/

Every year companies start urging shoppers to spend all their money earlier and earlier. This year I saw Christmas decorations up in stores before Halloween and many stores started Black Friday on Thursday. They gave you ample opportunity to “buy, buy, buy,” “spend, spend, spend,” and go “broke, broke broke.” The whole overconsumption, commercialism, consumerism and generally irresponsible spending around the holidays, has gone way too far. I have refused to participate. I did stay home on Thursday and Friday, but I must admit, ordered a couple of things online (that I was planning to get anyway) on Cyber Monday.

Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, I’m sure many of you are fraught with guilt from spending way too much, on too many once in a lifetime, AMAAAAAZING deals. I thought I’d give you some hope to get back in the black.

Whatever you’ve done over the past 5 days can most likely be reversed. You can take it all back. It’s not too late. You can still get money back to pay rent in 4 days. You can join me on the “Buy Nothing” challenge, starting retroactively from “Black Thursday.”

What do you think? Who’s in?

~namaste~

Can You Stop Procrastinating?

I am the biggest procrastinator ever!  I keep saying “If I just did what I was supposed to do, I wouldn’t have any problems.”  I believe that is absolutely true.  We all know we should not be procrastinating, but why do we do it?  I have a theory as to why.

We expect too much of ourselves. How can we not,  with the way American life is structured today? Think about when you were in high school. Maybe not high school, but middle school, when your only responsibility was school. Maybe you played a sport on the weekends or afterschool, but what else did you have to do? Make your bed, clean the bathroom? And when you weren’t in school or doing simple chores, what were you doing? You were playing and enjoying life. You didn’t have to work to pay for school, or the roof over your head. Life was very manageable. Adulthood sucks in comparison.

Who says that adults are truly capable of managing the responsibility load that our culture expects of us?  I don’t believe it anymore. I don’t believe it for a second.  We work, go to school, pay bills, deal with creditors, utility companies and landlords. We cook, we clean, we take care of our children, significant others, and pets. Running our lives is like running a corporation. You are doing all the roles at once without any assistance. It becomes all work and no play.

But what is it that you want to do? Play. What does that mean to you? Basically the same thing it did when you were a child: spend time with friends, enjoy the fresh air, play music, read a good book, etc.  So why are the responsibilities of life so overbearing? Because we live in a culture of overconsumption. Our overconsumption makes us slaves to money. If we weren’t slaves to our money, we would have fewer responsibilities.

Think about this for a moment: if you owned 10 pieces of clothing, in total, how bad would laundry be? That’s one load to wash, one load to dry, and maybe 5 minutes to fold and put it away, at the most.  Would you really have to procrastinate doing laundry?  It would take so little of your time, so little energy, that I believe it would be a non-issue. I have to do 5 or 6 loads of laundry if I wait until I get down to my very last pair of socks.  No wonder the laundry piles up for weeks on end, and I’m in and out of the laundry room for a day and a half.

Don’t feel bad if you are a procrastinator. Most people are. And I would say it is because your life has become unmanageable– don’t take offence– I’m just saying you have too much on your plate. Forgive yourself.  You bit off more than you can chew, and you can’t put it back. You have to finish it all to clear that plate sometimes.  You have to work 2 jobs to pay the debt, or pay for school.

You can figure out ways to make life a bit more manageable. If you cut back on the stuff, you can cut back on your chores, or at least make them easier. Fewer clothes= less laundry. Fewer dishes= smaller dish pile and quicker clean-up. Smaller house= fewer rooms to clean. Fewer gadgets= less money owed. .

Well, what about procrastination? How does this help me with my thesis that I’ve now dragged out to a fourth semester? (I’m the guilty one here).

Tell yourself: I’m going to achieve one goal today. One solid goal that requires a bit of effort.  For me, that was turning in my substitute teacher application, and running all over town to prove to the public school system that I’m not a criminal. Yes, it was a pain and took a total of 5 hours, but it’s done now.

And after you achieve that goal, don’t feel guilty for spending the afternoon twiddling your thumbs while staring at the boob tube. I gave myself permission to watch Misfits and Glee without feeling like I should be doing something.

If you do that one thing, and complete one solid objective today,  you’ve accomplished something. You’ve taking a reasonable step towards a better life.

You aren’t going to stop procrastinating, ever. Perhaps, you can get your life simple enough that the type activities you procrastinate are virtually non-existent or minimized so that they aren’t so bad. For now, just do one thing at a time. Maybe that one thing will give you some momentum to accomplish another thing. Maybe not. Either way, it is okay.

Hope you are having a great week so far.

~namaste~

Galaxy Precedent on StraightTalk Review

So in an effort to save money, a few months ago I switched from a Blackberry on AT&T to a smaller, prepaid, Android smartphone on StraightTalk (by Walmart).  You can go online and find a ton of specification reviews, so I’m not going to do that here. I’m going to focus mostly on my experience downgrading and whether or not I thought it’s worth it.

Since I got the phone in May or June, the superfast, delightful newness of the thing has worn off.  My phone works just fine (for the most part), but I find myself yearning for something newer and fancier.  What I’ve come to expect, in terms of technology is unreasonably high. I went from an iPhone 3Gs, to a Blackberry Torch II (my first “downgrade”) to this prepaid Android phone. My iPhone, before I dropped it hundreds of times and submerged it in water works slightly better than the Galaxy Precedent.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Android. It is far better than Apple’s iOS.  My Galaxy Precedent has more options and features that I believe that even the latest iPhone has.  I love that I can customize this thing’s ringtone without buying anything. It has all of the apps I need, whereas Blackberry is by far the most inadequate of the three. Generally, the phone is very responsive, I love the talk to text feature (I hate typing on touchscreens). The camera is just okay, but it gets the job done.  That is one feature I use a lot on my cell phone that I wish was much better. The internet browsing is slow, my Blackberry was by far the fastest but awkward.

I always have service, even more so than with AT&T. I’ve only encountered one random dead spot on the road. I also had no access to cell service overseas on this phone(not even wifi). That was kind of annoying, but I managed just fine. I digress…  People tell me that they can hear me much better on this phone than they could when I had AT&T. Now remember, StraightTalk comes in 2 varieties: one uses a sim card and one doesn’t. So whether you have a sim card or not will affect how many bars you have. If I’m not mistaken, StraightTalk partners with, or uses other networks cell towers so that is why the service may vary. I have a phone without a sim card.

My biggest gripe with the phone is that it freezes, a lot.  The phone, while compatible with my Bluetooth headset, doesn’t like being paired with said headset. I haven’t tried a different Bluetooth, and I’m not planning on it.  Without fail, if the phone is or has been recently paired with my Bluetooth it will freeze and I will have to restart it. I can use the devices paired for an hour long workout, or a two hour conversation without a problem. But sometimes, the phone itself will freeze and the call or music will remain in progress.

The best part about StraightTalk’s plan is that unlimited text, talk an data are included in what I pay. I don’t use my phone nearly enough to warrant paying 85-100 dollars on any of the bigger networks. I think with tax it comes to 48 dollars and some change.

Would I do it all again? Absolutely.  I’m not going to lie though, I don’t love the phone. I like it, suffices, but like I said before, I’m used to a much higher caliber of technology.  The service and price are wonderful. Really, the only thing I would have done differently is saved up some money for a nicer phone, like an unlocked Galaxy Nexus (what I have my sights on now).  What’s more, I don’t have to wait two years to do that, if I choose.

When I think of what other people are paying for their cell phone service, I feel great about what I’m saving.  What I’ve come to realize, is that I don’t need my phone that much. With a little pre-planning, I don’t have to rely on my phone for every little thing. I don’t even need to rely on my phone for directions (although their maps work pretty darn well).  I’m no longer one of “those people” neck bent, staring at my cell phone 24/7.

Goodbye Fancy, Hello Simplicity: 4 Reasons to Cancel Cable & Satellite

I got rid of cable television a more than a year ago when I realized it was wasting all of my time.  Now I’ve become a Hulu/Netflix/YouTube junkie and am trying to kick that habit.  But today I’d like to open your eyes as to reasons why you need to cancel cable television.

#1: Most of what you watch on TV is probably mindless crap because you are bored. Chances are you are watching reruns of SpongeBob SquarePants, the 4, 5 and 6 o’clock news, maybe the Simpsons and Family Guy while you eat dinner, and then some late night funnies on Comedy Central. Your weekends might be filled with reality television garbage on E! and MTV, and reruns on Cartoon Network.  I can’t say I’m not guilty of doing this.  I’m feloniously so.  You wouldn’t actually buy half this crap on DVD would you? Then why are you paying for it on TV?

#2: Television these days just has too many freaking commercials, more than ever before.  Unless you are watching premium channel programming, like HBO or Starz, an hour long program is going to cost to cost you 18-22 minutes of commercials.  That is a loooonnnng time.   That is nearly the length of a sitcom. I remember being a kid and there were only 4 commercial breaks during an hour long television show.  They occurred at the top of the hour, quarter after, half past the hour, and a quarter till.  You got 12 straight minutes of entertainment and limited commercial breaks. These days you have to sit through 6-7 commercial breaks during that same show. Realize this: You are paying to be advertised to. Advertising costs you money in other ways. Please don’t get me started on advertisements.

#3: Television is a time suck. You pause briefly on TBS to see what part of a movie is on, and suddenly 7 hours have passed and you’ve watched 2 and a half movies. Need I say more?

#4: It is cheaper to buy (or rent) movies and television series on DVD. I think buying cable television through cable and satellite companies is one of the biggest ripoffs of all time.  Cable and satellite companies are middle men.  Middle men are a hustlers and conmen; you don’t know their motives completely.  Think about it: You buy services from them, they provide mediocre customer service, channels with too much advertising and forever rising rates. Let’s say you are a True Blood fanatic like me.  In order to watch True Blood episodes as they premiere I have to spend $100 or more per month on cable, for basic cable, HBO, DVR and on demand service so I can keep up. I cant just buy HBO, I have to buy a whole freaking package.  And because episodes are being premiered once weekly, I have to pay for service from June to the end of September to keep up with the show.  That’s at least 400 dollars.  Now if I just waited until the following June, and bought the entire season on DVD, I’d spend $40 and could watch the episodes at my leisure. But that requires patience.

In sum, television is:

  • Theatrical entertainment provided by talented actors and actresses.
  • Theatrical entertainment of a much lower quality, where there are actors and actresses, but they are far from talented.
  • Reality television: Lets be honest, some of  is good, but most is garbage.
  • News Broadcasts: aka daily dose of doom and destruction
  • Sporting events: Meh.
  • Advertisements: to keep us suspenseful during all of this lovely programing.

My question to you, is how many of these types of programs do you truly enjoy?  If I had to guess, probably not more than two.  Really worth $1200 per year or more? What about the time you will never get back? It’s probably not worth it. So avoid watching hours and hours of garbage, hours of commercials, and spend your  time and money on the shows that truly mean something to you.  Forget the middle man.  Care about the news?  Digital antennas anyone? You pay for those once, and then never again. You should try to get your entertainment as cheaply or free as possible.

Goodbye Fancy, Hello Simplicity: Cancelling AT&T

I was tired of being ripped off by my cell phone company so I fired them.  You should too. I paid the stupid termination fee, and got SmartTalk, an inexpensive, prepaid service.  By cancelling AT&T ($245), buying a new Android smartphone (approx $139), I got unlimited everything without a contract ($45/month) and will STILL pay less over the 17 months that were left on my contract than I would if I kept AT&T for those 17 months ($81/month, and I had discounts, imagine if I didn’t). I thought about making the switch to Metro PCS, a big prepaid service here in south Florida, but decided against it because I cant keep my North Carolina number.

I spent a lot of time considering getting rid of AT&T.  Financially, it makes sense, and reviewers from GigaOM seem to think so too, especially if you can afford a fancy new unlocked Galaxy Nexus.  But affording a fancy phone isn’t the point.  It’s about not getting ripped off, spending less money, all so I can work less.

Quite frankly, I worried the most about the spotty reviews these prepaid companies get.  Giving up my Blackberry is giving up the materialistic lifestyle that I preach so much about giving up.  Here in America it is always about upgrading and getting new and better.  Switching to prepaid service is more like downgrading.  I can talk the talk,  but it is another thing entirely to just do it.

I guess my concern was with making a mistake. I’ve had an attachment to my blackberry, to AT&T, and my cell number (that I’ve had since I was 17). Lord knows why.  They certainly don’t have any attachment to me.  It’s time to let go of some of those things today.

Now that it’s done, there is no going back.  I like the new phone’s interface. I believe it runs older Android 2.3 but since I never had Android before, it looks good to me.  Only time will tell how I like this phone and wireless service.  I’ll post a review of my experience “downgrading” in a month or so.

I wonder if I should have stepped back even further and got rid of the smart phone all together.  If I had, I’d be paying even less money.   Possibly even 20 dollars month.  But that, my friends, is a huge step for another day (maybe).